Women's History and Ancient History

By Sarah B. Pomeroy | Go to book overview

ELIZABETH CARNEY


"What's in a Name?": The Emergence of a Title for Royal Women in the Hellenistic Period

During most of the first half of the fourth century B.C. the kingdom of the Macedonians seemed irretrievably mired in a morass of political troubles, largely centered on the royal family itself. Kings died young, leaving disputed successions and troubled regencies in their wake; assassination plots generated within the royal family and/or the aristocracy were the stuff of gossip and sometimes truth; both barbarian tribes to the north and the Greek city-states to the south attempted, often with considerable success, to capitalize on these internal difficulties to their own advantage. 1 The women of the Argead house (the Macedonian royal family) during this troubled period are largely ciphers; usually we know little more than their names and the names of the men they married (indeed, even in less troubled periods, the situation is little different). 2 The only exception to this generalization is Eurydice, wife of Amyntas III, and even about Eurydice much of what little is known is of dubious authenticity. 3

Then, when it must have seemed that this Macedonian mess would never be cleaned up, in 359 B. C. the greatest Macedonian ruler yet, Philip II, came to power and, with remarkable rapidity, dealt with the internal problems of Macedonia. By 338 Philip had transformed once chronically divided Macedonia into the dominant power in the Greek peninsula. 4 In 336, shortly before he planned to lead a joint Graeco-Macedonian expedition against the great Persian empire, Philip was assassinated. 5 Philip was polygamous, as in all probability were Macedonian kings before him, 6 but toward the end of his reign his dealings with two of his wives, Olympias, mother of his heir Alexander III, or the Great, and Cleopatra,

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